Well here we are living on an island… and it’s been so relaxing I haven’t written a post in forever.. well, that might not be it, could just be sheer laziness about the whole writing thing and keeping up with it but whatever justifies it works!
Island living… sounds idyllic, the scenery is definitely idyllic and there are many days I have to pinch myself to remember I actually live here. Real life doesn’t go away though, for anyone feeling particularly jealous there are still bills to pay, kids to get to school, work to do, husbands to irritate, housework to ignore. Oh and the sand in your bed! Should have predicted that one but it’s taken me 18 months to stop getting aggravated about it. The amount depends on exactly how much housework I’ve ignored and how many kids have been in the house and how thoroughly I sat on the edge of the bed and brushed my feet together to de-sand before hopping in. It’s a bit like camping.. permanently.
It would have been so easy to go back to the suburbs and our busy jobs and kids in every after school activity they could manage in the interest of ‘personal development’ but we didn’t. Instead we moved here, where you have to catch a boat to do most things we used to just hop into the car for and we have a curfew – after 730 pm we are stranded on the mainland and rely on the generosity of our friends to give us a bed for the night!
It’s an interesting re-mix of life balance, we work harder to do grocery shopping or obtain building supplies (or pay more) but life is more like it used to be, kids free to roam, simple pleasures such as watching the sun go down at the beach or swimming in a beautiful lake and drinking tea admiring the vibrant poinciana trees from our front deck. We have been lucky enough to meet some some amazing people from all walks of life and count a number of them as friends now. That happened so easily compared to other places we’ve lived that it must have something to do with who is drawn to live here, or is lucky enough to have been born here and decided to stay.
There is also the bizarre occurrence that there are three other families living here or with a holiday home here that all used to live near us in Mt Crosby out West of Brisbane and were our crew. The odds of that happening seem far fetched unless you know they are all sisters that unite this group including my best friend in the world – family is definitely who you choose and it makes a new place so much more welcoming to move to.
There is so much to say about this little island off the coast of Brisbane but I’m just dipping my toe back in the blogging pool… so later gators…
We departed Denham headed for the famous Ningaloo Reef via the town of Exmouth – not that we had actually booked anywhere to stay, after perusing Camps Australia and determining that were five or six camping areas within the National Park area itself we decided that surely we would be able to find a site even during school holidays? There had been mutterings from some of the grey nomads we had chit chatted with about having to get there first thing in the morning to wait for a site but I think we had forgotten that in between having the conversation and arriving (or completely forgotten which area they were talking about, after four months it was all starting to blend into one!)
So it was a bit of a rude shock driving into Exmouth to find a big board up on the outskirts stating the national park was full! Mind you – so were all the caravan parks. We were beginning to think parking on the side of the road might have to be an option (you aren’t supposed to but driving hours back or forward from Exmouth didn’t really appeal). So began the big caravan park ring around to find that two at least had overflow areas – now this is a new concept for us, not sure if it’s just a WA thing but we have discovered that the parks in these high traffic tourist areas reserve areas for folk like us that turn up in town without a clue that it’s school holidays and wonder why we can’t get a site. I think it must be bad for tourism turning people away because they keep the overflow areas and the Lighthouse Caravan Park we checked into was only just finishing grading the new overflow area that afternoon and were even still waiting on council approval!
Anyway – crisis averted and a dirt pad is better than driving on – although it was really annoying to drive into the national park the next day and find that sites had become free! We even extended our stay here for another day, this is close to one of the most beautiful spots we had stayed so far with the clear green water, snorkelling, beach combing, massive clam shells to be collected and perfect weather. The beach was a short walk across the road and over the dune and we spent a lot of time there while the husband attempted to catch fish – or I should say attempted to catch legal size fish as there were some throw backs!
Beautiful Coral Bay
Finding a Spot
We failed miserably at our attempts to teach our kids to snorkel however – they found the water too cold to wade in and try it at Coral Bay, where you can literally snorkel off the beach (but perhaps with a wet suit at this time of year?) We took a glass bottom boat tour out to the reef itself (after discovering the exorbitant cost of swimming with the whale sharks – unbelievable!) Where it was attempted to put the girls in the water with a pool noodle to snorkel – but this too ended miserably! Admittedly there was quite a strong current so it wasn’t like we could just float along side them and teach some technique, it was all I could do to stay in one place while they got their snorkel and mask on – and the first mouthful of water pretty much stopped their snorkel escapade dead in tracks. Oh well – two wet cold short people returned to the boat while the grown ups took turns snorkeling at least! The fish and coral were beautiful, perhaps not as amazing as the Great Barrier Reef but the whole stop over in Ningaloo was a relaxing, sunny beach retreat.
The entire trip around Australia our children have been disappointed when we visited lighthouses. Not because they thought they were boring, or because we usually had long, windy, cold walks out to where they stood watching the ocean, but because they couldn’t go inside one! When we discovered that you could go on a guided tour of the historic lighthouse at Cape Leeuwin on the most South Westerly point of Australia, this was our chance to fix this small issue. Not only was this site absolutely stunning, with the backdrop of two oceans meeting at the Cape – Southern and Indian – and the lighthouse shining white in the sun (which led to me madly taking a thousand photos while the sun peeped out around rain clouds) but I actually learnt a lot about Australia’s history – which I’m not going to bore everyone with on here! Needless to say there were a LOT of steps and I was quite proud of the little people for making it all the way to the top and our jolly guide regaled us with stories of ship wrecks and facts about mining the limestone locally to build the lighthouse itself. This is still a fully operational light house as well and the light is on continually so it was fascinating to see.
I’m finally catching up on blog posts after a very lazy month (that included two weeks in Bali so that one is yet to come as well!) In the interest of catching up I’m lumping all of our time in the forest areas into one, as it was really just a case of wandering from one patch of really tall, old and beautiful trees to the other in this lush and ancient area 300 kms South of Perth. We started camping in the Shannon National Park and despite being a long weekend (maybe because it was a particularly freezing long weekend!) there was only a scattering of campers here. We loved it – there were fabulous hot showers, clean toilets and pre-cut fire wood (the ranger here needs a medal). Nights were pitch black other than the one of those amazingly thick star fields above (which fascinated our city living kids) and so peaceful and quiet we all slept like the dead.
From here we explored all the old growth Marri, Karri and Jarrah tree forests of Walpole, Pemberton and surrounds, finding what felt like secret circles of giant trees (the Karri grows up to 90 metres high!), buying local honey harvested from the aforementioned trees – which tasted like nothing you’ve ever bought in a store and generally just wandering around feeling awe-struck. It’s not like I haven’t been in forests before, but to be surrounded by these absolute behemoths of trees in the complete silence of the wilderness was almost (almost!) a spiritual experience…until the five year olds emerged from the Prado and completely shattered the peace of course and then it became much more of a guided nature walk again. As a quick aside, I think silence is the thing I miss the most since becoming a parent!
Big Tree Grove
Big Tree Grove
Snake Gully Look-Out
Snake Gully Look-Out
There were a couple of highlights from our forest sojourn… in particular the massive “fire tower” trees of the area that have previously been used as look out points to check for forest fires – complete with cabins built at the top of these 60+ metre high trees! Even more astounding is the fact tourists can climb three of these trees just for fun – using metal stakes driven into the trunks…yikes. Despite being employed in safety I often think that public safety regulation has become a little ridiculous but it does seem brave of the WA government to encourage thousands of tourists to precariously climb a massive tree using nothing but footholds and with the odd bit of fencing wire for protection! We watched with fascination as groups of tourists went up – and down – the same rungs and negotiated their way past each other A sign advised there were a maximum number of climbers allowed at any one time but there didn’t appear to be any actual control on that. Funnily enough one of our shorter family members was keen to get climbing herself, despite the fact I had to ‘rescue’ her from the 2 metre high playground equipment the day before….that bright idea was quickly vetoed by the taller members of the family. We did let them climb a short distance for a photo opportunity – and of course to make all our friends on Facebook think we are totally irresponsible parents for letting our children climb ridiculously tall trees. I also had to exercise all of my social restraint after witnessing the groups of tourists blatantly feeding the wild birds (from a bag of bird seed – who carries bird seed around?) right in front of the “DO NOT FEED THE BIRDS” sign. I’m sure the birdies were happy about it…but still….
Intrepid Tree Climbers – For Now!
Forest Walk – Tree so huge you could play hide and seek around it
Putting it in Perspective
Still couldn’t get the whole tree in shot
Although not the hubby’s cup of tea, one of my favourite activities here was the “Understory” walk in Northcliffe, a winding walk through bushy forest populated by large outdoor artworks including sculptures, music and writing. It was also one of the most peaceful – husband remained behind so there was no grumbling about the ridiculousness of art, the girls were given an iPod each so they could listen to children’s stories about the forest and its animals and plants and I was able to wander through reading the brochure about the artworks as I went and soaking up the atmosphere. All three of us returned relaxed – although there was much giggling from the short ones about the little ‘people’ statues they discovered in the undergrowth!
Girls Loudly Exclaimed – Its a Boy!
Listening to the bush stories
As peaceful and beautiful as this area is pretty soon we had all had enough of tree watching and driving through forests – particularly as the next port of call was Margaret River and the red wine was already calling to us!
Heading to Shannon National Park (between Albany and Pemberton) we stopped to see one of Australia’s National icons, the Valley of the Giants and its tree-top walk. Even if you aren’t a tree hugging hippy this site makes you understand the urge they have to climb a tree to protect it. The massive red tingle trees that have given this area it’s name apparently hark back to when we were “Gondwana” land and are now only preserved in this small niche in Western Australia where conditions remain similar to ancient times – they are gnarly, often holllowed out at the base and totally fascinating. The tree walks (one suspended 40 metres above the ground in the tree tops and one winding it’s way past mammoth tree bases) lets us visit these giants without trampling them to death. One huge tree has previously been ‘loved to death’ from it’s shallow roots being trampled and fell over – that would have been a terrifying site to behold!
The suspended walkway through the tree tops was surreal – looking down at these huge trees but also looking up where they still continued way above our forty metre vantage point as the metal grid swayed gently under our feet. Even with other tourists winding their way around the walks the lush forest absorbed so much sound you felt totally isolated – I didn’t want to leave but eventually decided it would be a little uncomfortable to sleep on. The engineering for this birds eye view is incredible and has won a bunch of awards – apparently the actual foot-print on the forest floor only occupies 3-4 square metres (depending on which brochure you read) supporting six, 60 metre suspended spans – not something to think about while you are hanging around forty metres in the air swaying in the breeze!
Seasoned tree walkers
We didn’t do much…
The winding path through the forest floor was just as breath-taking in it’s own way, standing at the bottom of the giants gazing up into the tree tops you feel tiny and unimportant – but also incredibly lucky to be able to see a glimpse of history like this. I also just loved that the girls were so interested in all the botanical signs and what they were seeing – Sophia in particular seems to have an avid interest in all things natural and stated that she would much rather be out in the trees than watching a movie. Considering we are on a six month nature tour (essentially) that bodes well. I’m not convinced Layla is as enthusiastic (our princess) but she is at least willing to be a good sport about it and not be outdone by her sister in the outdoorsy stakes!
Deciding we hadn’t tortured the children for a while we headed up to the Porongurup National Park (45 kms North East of Albany) so we could drag the blossoms up to the top of Castle Rock to see the Granite Sky Walk. The walk itself was 2.2 kms and quite steep towards the end, climbing through beautiful green karri forest – however every time we came to a sign saying how far we had yet to climb it came as a shock – surely we’d gone further than 500 metres?! The girls impressed us yet again with their tenacity, everyone making it to the top despite Layla asking every two minutes when would we get there and Sophia playing David Attenborough (still), stopping to stare in amazement at every new ant hill on the way up.
Heading up – too much energy to start with!
Balancing rock – how many people have taken this shot?!
View to the top
The Sky Walk itself involved a ‘scramble’ up the massive granite boulders using well placed metal foot and hand holds to reach a vertical ladder up a rock face to the viewing platform – so we elected for the adults to go up one at a time while the girls played on the lower karri lookout. This incredible piece of engineering had to be seen to be believed, freely suspended 570 metres above sea level on the Eastern side of huge granite rocks the brochures tell me are more than 1,000 million years old. The vista was also breath-taking, lush green farming land, more karri forests, vineyards and the Stirling Ranges in the distance. It didn’t pay to stand too close to the edge and look straight down on the Eastern side though, vertigo inducing doesn’t even begin to cover that sensation.
Elected not to have the kids “scramble”!
Walk with a view – don’t look directly down though
Going down was much quicker
On our last day in Albany the weather seemed to decide it had indulged the Queenslanders enough and returned to what is more expected down South when it’s nearly June – cold, wet and blustery. We had done most of our outdoorsy touring so headed to “Whale World” to hide from the elements. I really should have paid more attention the tourist brochures – initially I thought this was a whale information tour, turns out to be the last Australian whaling station that has been preserved complete with a whale ‘chaser’ vessel. The girls had a ball climbing through and over the whaling ship (the beds were about their size, were men all short in those days??!) however the actual historical revelations about the whaling industry required a strong stomach – the guided tour of the site included the ‘flensing’ deck, boilers and a massive saw they used to detach the poor old whales heads. However there was some great general information about whales and even the suspended skeleton of a massive blue whale (but apparently this 24 meter behemoth is half the size of the biggest known blue whales).
Inside the whaling ship
The Blue Whale Behemoth
The beautiful harbor where wholesale slaughter used to take place
The Cheynes IV – Whale Chaser
Returning from Whale World (immensely relieved that most of our species had realised that whaling is barbaric) the weather became even wilder, to the point where we removed the girls from the campervan and installed them in the Prado with a movie – just in case! Massive wind gusts off the ocean were rocking our little home and even once we decided it was safe enough to return Craig threw a tie down strap over the top and lashed us to the ground as added security. Sleep was in short supply on our last night with the wind, rain and noise and we were actually relieved to be on our way – Albany was fabulous but the wild wind gusts that come with coastal winters were a little unnerving!